Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Good Company (with Moussaka recipe!)

A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.
– William Shakespeare
This has been an excellent month for friendship. In the beginning of the month, I got to do some musical and choreographical collaborations with friends old and new. Mid-month, we took our practice to the stage to honor a sweet friend who is healing well, thank goodness, after getting struck by a car while crossing the street. The experience of rehearsing, performing, and gathering with so many folks for such an appreciative reason reaffirmed for me how much fun it is to have friends, and how much I love working on creative projects with good people. It was an opportunity that many among us took to give thanks. It made me reflect on the enormous good fortune of each and every day that my friends and acquaintances are safe and well.

Lindsay, Sarah, and me: "The Robertas"

Smiling friendlies.
A week later, I got a message from a friend who I haven't talked to in a year. There are some friends who I value knowing so much that they're always in my heart and on my mind, no matter how often we communicate. Some of my best friends are the furthest away, which almost serves to reaffirm the magical depth of true friendship. With some people, no matter how much time passes, the comfort, ease, and joy of being together never lessens; it is alive and well whenever we see each other again.

At the end of the month, I got to spend an evening with one of my very best friends doing what we love to do: talk, cook, listen to music, and chiiiill. One of the reasons that Nicole is so important to me is that I feel we always give each other the space to be ourselves, change, and grow, just like Billy Shakespeare said. Whatever phase either of us go through, our mutual love and respect is unwavering and unconditional. Like most good friends, she and I have lots in common, but I feel exceptionally fortunate that among those commonalities are the values I hold most dear: the pursuit of personal freedom through emotional stability, self-actualization, and the overall enjoyment of life, music, and foood.

Together we made the most amazing moussaka I've ever had! The cooking itself was a lot of fun, and since both us have had -- but neither of us had made -- moussaka before, we were astonished with its perfection! We were able to share our beautiful finished product with each other, as well as Dave, Debbie, Charlie, Zack, Taylor, and Laurie! Food is love! Here is the recipe so that you might enjoy this heaven-sent Grecian comfort too. I hope you can share it with a good friend... or 8!

Moussaka: layers of eggplant, spiced meat, and rich, savory custard and cheese.

Most Amazing Moussaka
2-3 eggplants, sliced lengthwise
2 cups shredded Muenster cheese
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground veal
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs
3 cups 1% milk
6 tbs butter
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
All purpose flour
Peanut oil
Ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper

Make it happen:
This dish is a great one to make with a friend, because it is a bit labor-intensive. It'd be great for one person to do the meat, and one person to do the eggplant, with someone else to clean the dishes! However, it wouldn't be impossible to make solo. I'd liken it to the difficulty of making a lasagna from scratch, although the bechamel sauce is more delicate than a marinara. I promise you the effort is worth the outcome in deliciousness. I'll separate this into 4 sections: the eggplant, the meat, the sauce, and the assembly. :)

The eggplant:

  1. Heat peanut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. 
  2. Lightly salt eggplant slices, and dredge through flour.
  3. Fry eggplant slices until golden brown on both sides.
  4. Drain and blot cooked slices with paper towel, removing as much excess oil as possible.

The meat:

  1. Heat 2 tbs peanut oil in large pan over medium heat.
  2. When oil shimmers, add diced onion and minced garlic and cook until soft (2-3 minutes).
  3. Add lamb and veal to pan and increase heat to medium-high, breaking up and mixing meat to cook.
  4. Add tomato sauce, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.

The sauce:

  1. In a large heat-safe mixing bowl, beat 3 eggs.
  2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt 6 tbs butter, and allow to bubble but not burn.
  3. Microwave 3 cups milk for 1 minute, then slowly add to butter, whisking continuously.
  4. Continue whisking until all the bubbles are out. (Water content evaporates.)
  5. Slowly add 6 tbs flour, while whisking continuously until sauce begins to thicken.
  6. Beat hot sauce slowly into egg bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Sauce should firm to a light, custard consistency. 

The assembly:
Prior to assembling moussaka, set oven to preheat to 350 degrees.

  1. In an ungreased 13x9 baking dish, add one layer of cooked eggplant.
  2. Top with half of the cooked meat mixture.
  3. Sprinkle 1 cup Muenster evenly on top. 
  4. Top with 1/2 of sauce.
  5. Evenly sprinkle half of the bread crumbs.
  6. Repeat layers.
Place moussaka in 350 degree oven for 30 -- 40 minutes, until top is golden brown and contents are bubbling. Allow to cool for 15 -- 20 minutes before serving. Serves 9.

Now that you know what goes into moussaka, you might be wondering why this dish qualifies as a Total Body Happiness superfood, because it does, although clearly it's not the world's healthiest dish. It has plenty of protein and is low in starch, but with the oil, cheese, and butter, you'll taste the luxurious richness known as fat. Yet, there is a place for comfort food in moderation, and the best thing you can do with this dish is to put love into making it, and share it with others. Enjoy yourself! Splurge in all the right places! When you embrace a healthy routine, there is room for a little butter. ;)

Did you know that low fat diets are linked to depression? Make sure about 30% of your diet comes from healthy fat for the optimal function of your brain and other organs.

Find this information helpful? Like this recipe? Let me know in the comments below!